A river of pain and sadness…

‘Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the place of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion and anguish.‘

-Henri Nouwen

The death of my gorgeous son twenty months ago has opened my eyes to a world full of pain.

I’ve always been sensitive to the feelings of others. I’ve always been challenged by injustice. I cry with and for those I don’t even know. I’m moved by their tragedies and I weep for their losses.

That was before!

Since Ben’s death I’ve found out what tragedy – loss, grief, shock, sorrow, heartbreak – is really like!!

I honestly had no idea!

I can see now that my little acts of kindness probably helped a bit – but they weren’t nearly enough and ended too soon. I’m ashamed and shocked by how quickly I moved on, naively assuming those hurt by loss, had too.

How wrong I was.

It wasn’t that I lacked compassion – I just didn’t understand. Maybe I was just too busy managing my own life. Maybe their grief was a stark reminder that if it happened to them it could happen to me! Maybe I just subconsciously assumed that grief and loss is an inevitable part of life and something you eventually get over!

So many assumptions and the bliss of ignorance!

There is so much about grief I simply didn’t know – not because I didn’t care.

I honestly had no idea…

⁃ That it lasts forever

That if your child dies part of you dies with them

That it’s possible to look normal when you’re not!

That you can smile even when your heart is bleeding.

⁃ That you feel isolated from the rest of the world

⁃ That you have panic attacks and relive the terrible moment they left – every single day.

⁃ That the pain is physical not just emotional – it actually hurts!

⁃ That you can somehow function (sort of) with a broken heart – but you’ll never be the person you were

That it’s possible to keep going because you have to

⁃ That people think you’re strong when you know you’re not!

That you can look happy when you feel sad

That your emotions and moods change without warning every day, every hour, every minute!

⁃ And that you will spend forever trying to rebuild life around a hole the shape of your child – simply because you have no choice!!

‘Don’t tell someone to get over it, help them get through it.

– Sue Fitzmaurice

Ben died – but he’s as much part of our family as if he were alive. I go to sleep thinking about him and I wake up thinking about him. (I don’t dream about him but I so wish I could)

I see him cooking pizza in the garden with his mates. I see him playing on the lawn with our grandchildren. I hear him laughing with his siblings. I watch him hanging his kayak gear on the washing line – casually chatting to Paul about his exploits. I hear him opening the front door and walking up the stairs. I see him sprawled on the sofa, beer in hand, watching a film. I smell him in his bedroom. I hear him singing. I see him sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, telling me about his next adventure. I feel his hugs. I savour every precious moment because it keeps him alive.

It’s what I do because it’s all I have.

It’s what we all do!

And now that I really know about grief my broken heart is broken even more – not just by my tragedy but by everyone’s tragedies…

The unfairness of life that sees so many families torn apart by the permanence of death. The emptiness. Mums who have never been able to have a longed for child or mums who have lost their only child. Murder, suicide, sickness, betrayal – so many losses; all different and all so tragic!

But the fact is bad things happen every day – things that are often completely out of our control!

Ben’s death has awakened me to a depth of sorrow I had only read about in books. A pain I could only imagine. And sadly the brutal reality is a million times worse than anything I thought I knew!

I now know that everybody’s grief is personal and it’s impossible to describe or understand unless you have lived it.

What I’ve realised is that all around there are people hiding their invisible grief!! They may live just around the corner; we might be standing next to them in the supermarket; we might be chatting as we walk the dog or meet in the gym – but like me, they look normal!!

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of our combined grief – it’s like a mighty invisible river of pain running through our communities. Broken people trying to stay afloat – some drowning while others try to save them. Some learning to swim while others hang on to anything that keeps their head above water.

Ben’s death has definitely made me more sensitive to the brokenness of others. And in order to keep afloat it has forced me to look for joy in the little things.

I still have so much to be thankful for – I never thought I would hear myself say that! And I’ve realised the only way to bring meaning back into life is by using my pain to help others.

Ben loved life and he loved people. I’m inspired by the quote…

‘Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone!

I know he wouldn’t want me to live a joyless life. He would want me to laugh and be thankful. He would want me to celebrate the life he loved. I’m trying – but I feel like I’m in a constant battle!! My grief keeps pulling me back down. I try to function with lack of sleep, reduced confidence, anxiety and panic attacks. This is probably how it will always be.

But very slowly and reluctantly I’m learning to trust God to give me enough strength to get through each day. I will forever be indebted to the beautiful people who consistently walk with me; not rushing or judging – just patiently and lovingly being present.

I’m writing a book and have set up a Facebook page @theonemoment2020 and blog to stop me from going crazy. It gives me purpose and connects me to other broken people. I hate the reason that we belong together but I love that we do. It’s been a privilege to get to know some of the bravest people I have ever met!!

I’m trying to sway the balance towards feeling thankful that Ben was my incredible child rather than drowning in sadness and self pity because he left too soon.

I will always be brokenhearted and I will always miss Ben but I think the only way to survive is to try and use pain in a positive way or I know it could destroy me. It’s only little steps forward at the moment but I am surviving and I guess that means I must be stronger than I feel.

We are all stronger than we feel!

Take comfort from these beautiful wise words…

‘Even now, as broken as you may feel, you are still strong. There is something to be said for how you hold yourself together and keep moving even though you feel like shattering. Don’t stop. This is your healing. It doesn’t have to be pretty or graceful. You just have to keep going.

– Maxwell Dawuoh